U.S. Army veteran George “Mike” Egan, who was awarded a Purple Heart in Vietnam, has won a $3.23 million settlement after the W.J.B. Dorn V.A. Medical Center failed to properly treat a spinal injury leading to Egan’s paralysis, according to a news release from Egan’s attorneys.
Egan, who served as a 1st Cavalry Division helicopter door gunner and crew chief during the Vietnam War, suffered a lower back injury and shrapnel-riddled legs when his helicopter was shot down, the release said. He spent a week in a field hospital, finished his tour and was honorably discharged with a Purple Heart.
Egan’s back pain increased through the years, and a 2010 MRI showed a severally ruptured disc, according to the press release from the Athens, Ga.,-based law firm of Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley.
“The practical effect was that the nerves were placed under severe pressure,” the release said. “Over time, the nerves would suffer permanent injury unless they were decompressed.”
At the time, Dorn had a neurosurgery department but no neurosurgeons, the release said. Rather than send Egan to another hospital with a spinal surgeon, Dorn providers attempted to relieve his pain with injections and oral drugs that did nothing to relieve the pressure on the spinal nerves.
After almost 16 months of ineffective treatment, Egan woke up in excruciating pain and was unable to stand, the release said.
He had another MRI in 2012 that showed his nerves were still severely compressed.
“His VA providers heavily drugged him and planned to send him home, but his wife begged them to let him stay one more night,” the release said..
Over the course of that night, the release said, the drugs caused Egan to develop severe delirium and he was put in a medically induced coma for weeks.
“When he finally came to, he had lost sensation and function in his legs and couldn’t control his bowels or bladder,” the release said. “Despite the obvious cause of his symptoms, his VA providers refused to send him to a spine surgeon until April 11, 2012. He underwent decompression surgery on April 12, but several of his cauda equina nerves were already permanently damaged,” causing his paralysis from the waist down.
Dorn Medical Center Director David Omura said Egan received appropriate care, but the V.A. attorneys agreed to settle the suit outside of court.
“The VA accepted liability for not moving along faster” to refer Egan to a neurosurgeon, Omura said. “I feel bad for any veteran to have to deal with an injury like that.”
A statement from the U.S. Veteran Administration said:
“The VA always strives to provide veterans with the very best health care available. When we don’t meet that standard, we hold ourselves accountable. In this case, which dates to 2012, the VA worked with the veteran and his attorney to settle this unfortunate case in a way we hope is meaningful to the veteran and his family.”